Writing competition – Under 18 winner

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Hazel Peters is the winner of the Under-18 category of this blog’s writing competition.

Hazel’s father, Keith, tells me that Hazel began showing her passion for nature, particularly birds, at around 7 years; recording what she saw, researching as much as she could and saving pocket money for binoculars.  If she’s not at school, she’s out in the field.

 

Hazel’s winning entry:

Fire, dim and dying, burnt behind the horizon. Veins of cloud choked the last light. The white shapes of Herring Gulls smouldered against the grey.  Wrens quivered on the edge of consciousness.  The birds were still, quiet; their unquenchable instincts leading them to the dark hollows of hedgerows. I spied their narrow fleeting shapes, like memories that I could decipher into dreams and reality, as they tremored through the grey. It was only the House Sparrows that would dare wander into the cold gleam of winter. Sharp voices, quickening to the flicker of wings and fear, would follow their nervous flights. The wind was rough, the damp bitter on my lip. The black binoculars around my neck were cold to touch. Mud gleamed like murky water as I walked over it.

I stopped and sat down. Quiet, still.

Gold glimmered against the dull December light. A charm of Goldfinches bounced above me, their shadows eclipsing the dying light. Woodpigeons clamoured in the stillness. Long-Tailed Tits threaded their songs into the wind.

Birds have always fascinated me. They possess the minds we once had. They live in spectrums of instinct; fear and joy comes to them with its fulfillment. They do not worry for the past or future, only the present and what is. There is no time in their rushed lives to admire or regret, only to fear. In the words of J.A Baker, ‘they are old before we have finished growing’.

They are not selfish, or cruel, or kind or giving – they are just being.

The guttural callings of Crows grew from behind the treeline. I watched them as they swept across the damp ploughed field as a clattering of Jackdaws rose high amongst them.

Silence.

I sat there some more for a while, I’m not sure how long I was there for, as time in nature is not measured in the pressure of ticking and loss. ‘A while’ was measured in wind and fading light.

Shadows bloomed across the land. Grey Wagtails slur the sky. The slim outline of a Grey Heron curved up from the top of the viaduct, the shadows of Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls swooped upon it.

The piercing voices of Blue Tits began to stir. Black-Headed Gulls sank to the rim of the earth in the distance. A small murmuration of starlings moved like a shimmering oil slick over the ploughed field. I looked at the horizon; fire was turning to smoke.

Quiet footsteps took me down a narrow path flanked with bare hedges and blackberry bushes. The burning warning call of a Blackbird rang, and crescendoed into a fleeting black smear erupting from the hedgerow. I darkened his kaleidoscope of instinct. Even though I have learnt to fear with nature, to blend my shape into the land, I will always be the dread in a Blackbirds voice, or the fleeting sprint of a Rabbit’s feet. It was a warning that I was not being as quiet as I could be.

Silence and stillness again.  Fading light, growing darkness.

Silver.

Amber.

Brown.

Vision blurred in those colours. I see a glint of silver first, cold in the December twilight. A scythe of white, the amber dusk of the hunting eye. Mottled wings shaped with violence, a chasing brown tail charred with bands of ash. The voices of House Sparrows and Blackbirds quickened to the pulse of wing beats. I breathed in, as if to exhale the moment. But the colours left and raced low over the hedge, and into the twilight, the dark outline of a Sparrowhawk with them.

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15 Replies to “Writing competition – Under 18 winner”

  1. Well done Hazel, you are a worthy winner. You clearly have a strong feel for both the natural environment and for language. Putting the two together is hard, nearly everyone has to work for it, partly by forgetting what is learned and putting yourself in the place. You are well on the road. I wish you all success.

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  2. Hazel - congratulations.
    Thank you for celebrating December and for the warmth in your descriptions of all those different birds. Is it fair to say that they are familiar and common? If so, they are not easy subjects to write about. We are all dulled by the ordinary. That is until someone like you makes that precise observation or that forgotten association which causes us to reopen our senses and become aware once more of our everyday surroundings.
    Keep writing. Keep researching. Keep finding new ways of seeing the sparrow like types of this world. Keep honing your descriptions of nature, especially regarding the wildlife that is close to the majority of us.
    Your method of watching is the best – the still and non possessive. Animals come to you, not you to them – a great and enviable skill if you can remain unobserved by those blackbirds some of the time.
    Hide and be still in your writing too (everybody finds that difficult). But don’t forget to choose the moment and weave in fine lines like your, ‘Long-Tailed Tits threaded their songs into the wind’.

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  3. I hate to think you will go through University being taught by morons and end up doing the job you could do right now. Inspiring others through your writing.

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    1. You have clearly had an unfortunate experience with academics, John, but I'd say that Hazel has a more than reasonable chance of not being taught by morons and an excellent chance of acquiring a deeper and personally enriching understanding of her subject.

      Whatever path Hazel takes in life she will encounter people whose confidence in their own opinions and abilities is unreasonably inflated and hopefully she will learn to spot the bull-shit and have the courage and the resolve to not let it sway her. She will certainly be wise to learn that there is not a single route to knowledge and understanding of any subject and, hopefully, will earn to value the views of others not because of the particular pulpit they preach from or the path they took to reach it but because of the actual content of what they say and the merits of their arguments.

      PS: I am not an academic.

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    2. John, sorry but I think that 'dislike' is mine, can't seem to get the 'like' to work at the moment.
      Your comment sadly rings too true.

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  4. Hazel - congratulations on being the winning entry and for such a brilliant piece of writing. Very much looking forward to reading the other winning entries now...

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